Over 1.25 million people in the UK have some type of eating disorder, with 75% of these being female.
They most commonly affect young people between the ages of 13 and 17, but they have been reported in people as young as 6 and people over 70.
Eating disorders remain one of the most stigmatised mental health conditions in the UK.
Common stigma surrounding such conditions involves the idea that individuals are responsible for their eating disorders, that they are weak, incompetent, attention-seekers and loads more.
These people face stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination as a result.
According to recent research by Lisa Brelet and co, men, young adults and low-income individuals tend to direct the most stigma towards those with eating disorders, but both healthcare professionals and the general population have A LOT to catch up on with regards to the stigmatisation of such conditions.
This stigma can lead to depressive symptoms, social withdrawal, avoidance of treatment, psychological distress, poorer cardiovascular health, weight differences, social alienation and more.
These stigmatisations contribute to self-harm and death by suicide, in which anorexia has one of the highest mortality rates of any mental health condition.
No one should have to suffer in this manner due to any mental health condition.
This is not okay.
But what are eating disorders?
According to the NHS, broadly speaking, an eating disorder is a mental health condition in which food is used to cope with emotions, feelings and situations.
It can either be eating too little, eating too much, worrying significantly about weight or body shape or something entirely different.
There are five common types of eating disorder:
- Anorexia Nervosa (or Anorexia): Overexercising or avoiding food to control weight.
- Binge Eating Disorder: Eating food until uncomfortably sick or full.
- Bulimia Nervosa (or Bulimia): Eating large amounts and then taking drastic measures to avoid weight gain (e.g. throwing up or using laxatives).
- Avoidant/ Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID): Avoiding certain foods due to smell, texture, negative responses to certain foods, or a lack of interest in eating.
- Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorders (OFSED): This is a term used for eating disorder symptoms that don’t necessarily fit into the criteria for a diagnosis of other eating disorders (expect to see more of this approach with other mental health conditions!).
Another three types have become recognised, although two of these are often not always officially diagnosed as eating disorders, they may occur alongside another diagnosis. The three types are:
- Orthorexia: An unhealthy obsession with eating ‘pure’, ‘clean’ or ‘healthy’ food.
- Pica: Eating non-foods without any nutritional value such as chalk, paint, soap, paper and more.
- Rumination Disorder: Repetitive/ habitual vomiting of food that is not wholly digested. The vomiting is painless and is different from usual sickness.
So, what are the symptoms?
Again according to the NHS, people can become more at risk of developing eating disorders if they have experienced external/ societal pressure to be a certain shape or weight.
Other risk factors include a history of sexual abuse, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, perfectionism, low self-esteem or certain conditions within the family.
Common symptoms of eating disorders include:
- Recurring Concern with Body Shape/ Size
- Discomfort Eating in Public/ Around Others
- Forcing Vomit/ Taking Laxatives After Eating
- Rapid or Slow Eating
- Mood Swings
- Weight Changes
- Excessive Exercising
- Constipation/ Diarrhoea
- Food Rituals (e.g. not allowing food to touch)
- Skipping Meals
- Regularly Small Portions
- Frequent Dieting
- Stomach Cramps
- Dizziness/ Feeling Faint
- Dry Skin
- Dry Hair
- Muscle Weakness
- Sleep Issues
- Dental Problems (e.g. discolouration, enamel erosion and tooth sensitivity)
- Poor Immune System
- Menstrual Issues
- Swelling of Salivary Glands
- Slow Wound Healing
Whilst different eating disorders have a range of different criteria, including specifics for anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder, here we have listed many of the common ones.
Please note that each of these do not indicate an eating disorder alone.
So, where can we find support for eating disorders?
Most people can recover from an eating disorder with the right support.
If you’re worried that you may have an eating disorder, it is recommended that your GP is the first port of call.
Although we are aware that it can sometimes be difficult to get a diagnosis for an eating disorder, and as a teenager it can be really difficult to explain your symptoms.
It may be worth checking out this website for tips: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/for-children-and-young-people/visiting-your-doctor/ or visiting BEAT to find out more information.
Your GP can then discuss your options, which may include specialist eating disorder help.
However, other resources are available to support you on your journey. For example:
BEAT – BEAT supply a national helpline that can be contacted via telephone, webchat or email specifically for those struggling with eating disorders. It is open to all ages 365 days a year (9am to midnight on weekdays and 9am to 4pm on weekends and bank holidays).
More information can be found on their website here: https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/get-information-and-support/get-help-for-myself/i-need-support-now/helplines/
BEAT is an amazing charity that provides loads of resources, information and support with eating disorders for both yourself and others.
If you are looking for some encouragement, motivation or just to satisfy an interest, we would recommend watching this documentary with former England Cricket superstar Freddie Flintoff on his struggles with Bulimia.
It provides a great insight into the life of someone with the condition and does a lot to shatter some of the stigmas that we mentioned earlier and can be found here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000n1xx/freddie-flintoff-living-with-bulimia
If you’re a parent looking for ways to support a young person with their eating disorder, the NHS has put together a useful guide with tips and advice that can be found here: https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/feelings-symptoms-behaviours/behaviours/eating-disorders/advice-for-parents/
You may also want to follow some bloggers for a really detailed insight into what it is like to endure and recover from an eating disorder.
Our recommendation would definitely be @CaraLisette on Twitter and Instagram.